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No virus spread threat from cats, experts say after tiger catches coronavirus

By Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent

There is no evidence cats can transmit coronavirus to people, experts have said after a tiger tested positive for the virus at a zoo in the US.

The four-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia, and six other tigers and lions that have also fallen ill, are believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who was not yet showing symptoms, the Bronx Zoo said.

The first animal started showing symptoms on March 27, and all are doing well and expected to recover, according to the zoo, which has been closed to the public since March 16 amid the coronavirus outbreak in New York.

But while it appears animals in the cat family can catch the virus from humans, there is no evidence the disease can travel in the other direction, scientists said.

Dr Sarah Caddy, Veterinarian and Clinical Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, said reports of a tiger with Covid-19 was not wholly unexpected as new research suggests domestic cats can be infected with the virus if large doses are administered into their noses.

“However, it is surprising that the tiger has become infected with what must have been a fairly low dose of virus – we can assume the tiger did not have continual close contact with the asymptomatic zookeeper,” she said.

And she added: “What does this mean for our pet cats? Nothing new – at present there is still only one suspected case where an owner has spread the virus to their pet.

“It is possible that tigers in captivity are more susceptible to the virus than household moggies as there is a 5% difference between their genomes.

“The bottom line is that there is no evidence that any cat, large or small, can transmit the virus back to humans.”

The World Health Organisation says that while there has been one instance of a dog being infected in Hong Kong, there is no evidence a cat, dog or any pet can transmit Covid-19.

The virus is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks, the expert body said.

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